From Shutdown to Debt Limit
The House continues to introduce and pass “mini-CRs”—continuing resolutions that temporarily fund small parts of the government. The latest examples: H. J. Res. 90, The Federal Aviation Administration Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014; H. J. Res. 91, The Department of Defense Survivor Benefits Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014; H. J. Res. 92, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014; and H. J. Res. 93, The Mine Safety and Health Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014.
But a new dimension on the action has emerged: the debt limit.
Federal law limits how far into debt the U.S. government may go, and the government has regularly bumped up against this limit. Earlier this year, though, the No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013 suspended the debt ceiling from February 4, 2013 until May 19, 2013.
On May 19, the debt ceiling was formally raised to approximately $16.699 trillion to accommodate the borrowing done during the suspension period. The ceiling was raised only to the actual debt at that time, and the Treasury Department had to take extraordinary measures to continue paying the government’s bills. Treasury predicts that these measures will allow the government to pay out on its obligations until October 17, though other estimates differ.
So Congress is considering lifting the debt ceiling once more. The latest debate occurred last week in the Senate. The debate there was all about you.
Here’s what that means: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid proposed a debt limit suspension similar to the prior one, but this would go until December 31, 2014. What’s important about that date is that it’s beyond the next election. Majority Leader Reid wants to have debt limit debates without the pressure of a pending election hanging over that debate. He wants less pressure (in either direction) from you.
Senate Republicans want the opposite. They think the next debt limit debate should happen with election pressures mounting.
So last week, Senate Republicans refused to allow continued debate on S. 1569, the Default Prevention Act of 2013. (The Senate’s “cloture” rule requires 60 votes, which means Republican support, for debate to continue.) Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) prefer a debt limit suspension until January 31, 2014. That means more election pressure hanging over the debate because there’s an election the following November.
So the federal government is nearing the limit of its ability to take on new debt. There is argument about whether this means a default, in which the United States government stops paying creditors, or just disorganized cuts in other payments the government is required to pay.
As always, it’s up to you to decide what should happen here, and to communicate your wishes to your elected representatives.